While the cable upfront market has been picking up steam, a number of programmers are exploring the option of offering advertisers value-added elements that extend beyond the conventional spots and media buys.
In this difficult ad-sales environment, various broadcast and cable networks have embraced or are becoming increasingly amenable to product placements, entitlement sponsorships, sponsor-supplied programming and other ideas to attract or keep clients.
Moreover, such components can serve to get sponsor messages across by standing out amid the clutter and helping to elude the threat posed by ad-zapping technologies like the digital video recorder.
Product placement also provides networks with synergistic opportunities. Indeed, some networks are moving beyond mere product placement and are providing on-air outlets where consumers can purchase items seen in their shows.
NBC Enterprises, NBC Daytime and ShopNBC last month announced a strategic marketing, commerce and entertainment alliance bent on placing products in the Peacock network soap operas Days of Our Lives
and on ShopNBC's Soap Style, which will debut as a live Saturday afternoon show in mid-July.
will allow viewers to buy jewelry, apparel, home furnishings and other merchandise featured on NBC's daytime serials; the wares also will be available via ShopNBC.com and NBC.com.
"To proactively work product placement into our story lines as well as leverage and extend our NBC Daytime brand in a transactional way is a television first for us," said NBC daytime programs senior vice president Sheraton Kalouria.
An NBC spokeswoman said that most of the products to be sold via ShopNBC will be private-label designs made specifically for that channel, but there will also be some name brands, such as Nine West shoes and Limoges gifts.
Once a product bows on one of the network's soaps or ShopNBC, she said, it will be available 24 hours a day on ShopNBC.com and then on Soap Style. The network also will run promos to drive consumers to ShopNBC to buy wares seen on the shows.
ABC, CBS MOVES
Elsewhere in daytime, ABC recently signed a deal with Revlon that incorporated that cosmetics giant into a soap-opera story line.
In primetime, CBS's Survivor
reality series is a prominent user of product placements and AT&T Corp. has long been plugged with the "phone-a-friend lifeline" in the ABC's Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.
AT&T media director Karen Milke said its "lifeline" plug is an "innovative way to break through the clutter. Product placement doesn't have to be annoying, and it can be effective."
Hallmark Channel executive vice president of ad sales Bill Abbott said the network is contemplating such placements, but stressed, "We want to do things that are subtle, while extending the advertiser's message." The network is currently in talks with advertisers, but no deals had been signed by press time, he noted.
As for title sponsorships, Hallmark Channel at last month's National Show announced a $1 million deal that will make Wendy's International Inc. the presenting sponsor for the network's original primetime series Adoption. The buy was inspired by the late Dave Thomas, Wendy's founder and ad spokesman and an adoptee himself. Thomas also headed the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.
Scripps Networks' new Fine Living Network, meanwhile, has devised a new, product-placement-style ad model.
The fledgling network is offering plugs at show's opening and close, as well as during a one-minute "mid-break" halfway through each half-hour program. In addition, advertisers also will be able to run infomercials up to five minutes in length, according to Fine Living president Ken Solomon.
Rather than being billboarded on series like Radical Sabbatical, title advertisers are featured in stylized, contextual "sponsored by" stills in letterbox format during a program's opening and closing segments, he said.
In another "blending of advertising message with content," the mid-break "Take-Away Minute" is an interstitial that offers information on something seen on the show. For example, breaks during Great Adventure's
recent African safari episodes offered tips warning viewers against visiting during the rainy months and indicated which rooms at a resort offer the best view. While the video occupies three-fourths of the TV screen, a "sponsored by" strip runs on the side. That client's spot then follows the segment.
Solomon said that service has sold four dozen charter clients on the concept, but he declined to identify any.
Turner Broadcasting System Inc. has been playing in the product-placement arena for the past seven years with TBS Superstation's "Dinner & a Movie" franchise, said TBS senior vice president and general sales manager Linda Yaccarino, while the network's two-year-old "Man Made Movie" represents its "second generation" of such efforts.
Dinner & a Movie gradually made the transition from traditional "passive" product placements to a more active approach, for example, with a visit to a Wendy's fast-food restaurant.
Currently, Yaccarino said "25 to 30 companies a year" are doing placements on Monday night's Dinner & a Movie franchise, including Kraft Foods, Wrangler jeans and auto makers General Motors Corp. and Kia Motors Co.
Lowe's Companies Inc.'s home-improvement retail chain has been the main sponsor on Thursday night's Man Made Movie package since its inception, and is expected to renew shortly, she added. That deal also includes title sponsorship and a prominent presence on TBS's Web site. During the movie breaks, host Chad Taylor talks about his ongoing home improvements — such as the "Heineken Hoops Court."
"Movies for Guys Who Like Movies" on Tuesdays targets male-oriented clients like automakers, film studios and fast foods.
During the new season, TBS's "third generation" will manifest itself on the Thursday night "Movie Break" and the nightly "Non-Stop Comedy Block" — featuring four popular off-network sitcoms, such as Seinfeld
and Home Improvement, presented back to back.
Twelve- to 15-minute interstitials and the Movie Break segments will look at what's hot in Hollywood movies, video games and the like.
According to Yaccarino, TBS will give clients non-preemptible time and will target consumer electronics marketers and retailers, as well as movie studios and fast food.
Starting in the fourth quarter, four sponsors — one per quarter — will receive customized segments within the Non-Stop Comedy Block, depicted as a neighborhood street featuring various storefronts, Yaccarino explained.
For example, viewers would follow the camera into a virtual movie theater where they would see film clips, or a product commercial from a studio.
No clients had been sold at press time, she said.
Yaccarino described the product-placement strategy as "very lucrative." So, too, is sister network Turner Network Television's title-sponsorship approach, which she said "speaks to their brand initiative [ 'We Know Drama']."
TNT began its "Kleenex Tearjerker Movies" and "TNT American Express Movie Portfolio" film packages last year. In addition to the title sponsorships and commercial units within the films, Kimberly-Clark Corp.'s Kleenex and American Express Co. also gain exposure via plugs on TNT's Web site.
Among the "Tearjerker" flicks: Stepmom, As Good As It Gets, Terms of Endearment
and Sleepless in Seattle. American Express' package — focusing on "films that explore the serendipity of the American Dream," includes Father of the Bride II
and Baby Boom.
TNT has expanded its title sponsor push to original movies under the "Johnson & Johnson Spotlight Presentation" banner. TNT executive vice president and general manager Steve Koonin said that J&J will co-develop four original movie dramas in the coming season. The first, Door to Door
starring William H. Macy and set for July 14, was in the production pipeline prior to J&J's commitment.